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Fourth Graders & a Christmas Tree Hunt

Written by Jim Huckabay on November 10, 2017. Posted in Uncategorized

Somehow, this just seems wrong. Christmas trees? Christmas? Already?

On the other hand, the press release from the U.S. Forest Service (and the Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest folks) is probably right on time. Families can be planning now to go find the tree which will form the centerpiece of their spiritual and physical celebration of Christmas.

Each fourth grader with an “Every Kid” pass can get a free Christmas tree permit. That permit opens the door to a family adventure – and maybe the beginning of a family tradition and memories savored for a lifetime or more.

We’ve looked at this before. In 2016, President Obama kicked off the national Every Kid in a Park Initiative as part of the 100th Anniversary celebration of the National Park Service. Operated by an interagency group of feds involved with our outdoors, the idea is to encourage children to visit national parks, forests and public lands. Now, each fourth grader in the country can obtain an annual (September 1 to August 31) paper pass for free entry into all federal lands and waters. That paper pass can be exchanged for a multi-agency plastic pass at a number of partner sites (including most of our Forest Service District Ranger offices). The pass admits the pass-holding kid and any passengers in the same private vehicle to per-vehicle charge sites, or the kid and up to three hanger-on adults to per-person charge sites. This is good at all federal land and water sites. Get all the details, of course, at the Every Kid in a Park website – www.everykidinapark.gov. (Your kid may already have his/her pass – many fourth-grade teachers make it a class project.)

This is a big deal; more than 80 percent of American families are deep urbanites, with limited safe outdoor access, and youngsters spend more time than ever before staring at screens. The goal of the program is to get kids and families out to our federal lands and waters. Targeting fourth graders, over time, will ensure that every child in the U.S. has the opportunity to visit and enjoy our nation’s wild and sacred lands and waters. Given that children between nine and 11 are uniquely open to learning about their world, and are highly receptive to new ideas, fourth graders are at an ideal age to develop a lifelong devotion to nature and our outdoor heritage.

So, why not start with a Christmas tree permit? To get the free one, the kid takes the “Every Kid” pass to any eastern Washington Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest ranger district office or headquarters office (Cle Elum, Leavenworth, Naches, or another) during regular business hours and claims his or her tree permit tag. Additional public permits are available for five bucks. This could be a great start to a family outdoor year.

The Old Man always loved our “tree hunt.”  He explained to me and his two other sons that we hunted deer to sustain our physical selves through winter. Our Christmas tree hunt, he said, was to sustain our spirits through whatever lean times might come. He had precious little education, but he was a wise man. With his construction work in the tough 1950s, lean times were almost guaranteed by every Christmas.

At some point in December, we would load up at our East Wenatchee house and head up to Uncle Ed and Aunt Evy’s place on the Little Chumstick, out of Leavenworth. Somewhere on those hillsides, we knew, was the perfect tree. It was as close as The Old Man ever got to democracy; we all had a vote, and only a unanimous vote would get a tree cut. We would stand before tree after tree, and split each ballot. Over a few hours, of course, the split grew narrower, as my younger siblings grew weary of democracy. Finally, some ideal young Douglas fir (in his opinion, the only true Christmas tree) would receive a unanimous, if teeth-chattering, “aye!”  After a short ceremony, my father would cut the tree.

Few presents or little money, there was always the tree. It was the hearth around which we heard the biblical stories of Christmas, and learned of family Christmas traditions.

Christmas ended when the tree came down. Some years it lasted well into January – some years we needed a constant reminder of the spirit of the season.

Different times, these today. For a lot of good reasons, we probably still need that icon carrying us through the Christmas season. Decorated with the trappings of faith and family ways, surrounded and filled with gifts, it is still the focal point of most of our family celebrations.

Get the permit. Get the tree. Make a memory in the forests of Paradise to fix in our children a commitment to wild places and wild things forever. Let the scent that fills your home carry you back – again and again – to your hunt in the forest. Let it be a source of family pleasure and togetherness.

Who knows what this “Every Kid” pass will accomplish over time? This is important. To paraphrase Jodi Larsen, Upper County Rotary: Children are the emissaries we send into a time we will never see – what do we want them to take along?

Too early, I fear… But is it ever too early to help kids and families develop a commitment to a forever outdoor future? Hmmm…

Fine… Merry Christmas!

Washington and Those Slumping Hunter Numbers

Written by Jim Huckabay on November 3, 2017. Posted in Uncategorized

You probably noticed it, too, last week. An online reader was kind enough to send me an “Oops, those numbers were off!” He noted that any hunter’s spouse will tell you their hunter spends a lot more than a couple bucks a year. In noting that as U.S. hunter numbers dropped from 12.5 million in 2006 and 13.7 million in 2011, to 11.5 million in 2016, expenditures slumped from $24.7 million in 2006 ($36.3 million in 2011) to $25.6 million in 2016. Oops. Those dollars were billions, with a “b!” Check out the 2016 survey at wsfrprograms.fws.gov/ (click on the survey’s title link) and you’ll see. Nationally, actual average annual expenditures per hunter ranged from $2,187 to $2,652 over the decade.

Those lost expenditures have a direct impact on the money available for managing wildlife and protecting habitat – habitat which supports far more non-hunted species of birds and animals than game birds and animals. Hunters, through the Pittman-Robertson excise taxes (up to $325 million annually) on firearms, ammo, archery equipment and other hunting related gear. This money, along with other state hunting revenues, funds a high percentage of the work done to ensure that our children’s children have wildlife. Lost hunting revenues are a very big deal.

So, where does Washington State fit in this loss of hunters and hunting-related revenue? What about R3 (recruitment, retention and reactivation) efforts? I reached out to Dave Whipple, WDFW’s Hunter Ed Division Manager, and he called on Michael Davenport, Economic Analyst for the department. Michael tracks hunter numbers and license sales – and the ramifications of them to DFW and the state – and Dave works with Wildlife Program folks to stay ahead of – or deal with – the trends Michael uncovers.

Turns out that hunter numbers in Washington reflect that national trend. Dave and Michael sent me current data for statewide license sales over the past decade. Licensing info is simple at one level and very complicated overall. Consider how many licensing packages there are (for example, big game with small game or two big game species vs 4 big game species, and on and on). Kudos to the folks who gather and sort these numbers AND to the folks who work with hunters and hunter numbers in the face of these trends.

The data are pretty interesting – almost fascinating. For a given year, they will show the total licenses sold for hunting a particular critter, and all the combinations within which we may buy our tags. Take deer, for example: buy just a deer license; a deer + elk; a deer + elk + bear + cougar; add a small game license; get a second tag; win a raffle deer license or combo. Now, multiply this by all species we hunt.

For what it’s worth, small game license sales have remained pretty stable over the past decade, while big game license sales have slumped to one degree or another. For the record, somewhere around 137,000 of your closest friends applied for special hunt permits this year. Under some conditions and in some places, you can have seven turkey tags (three hunters bought a seventh tag in 20167.

The simplest way to track Washington hunter numbers is with the “annual unique hunter” count. This is the number of individual purchasers of hunting licenses, no matter how many they bought or how they bought them. In the past decade unique hunter numbers dropped from 196,795 to 179,047 in 2017.

Those 17,748 “lost” hunters did not spend the $40 million or so that we might have expected. This carries a big economic impact to the future of our wildlife – to our outdoor heritage.

So how is the Department of Fish and Wildlife responding?

A formal organized R3 Initiative, with a growing number of partners across the state, is underway. We should see more activity in the next twelve months.

In October of 2013, DFW and our Fish and Wildlife Commission pulled together the Youth Outdoors Initiative. This program is still growing, and is focused on getting youngsters off their digital additions and into outdoor connections. These activities include fishing, hiking, hunting and other ways of connecting with the earth. Programs are in schools around the state.

Recruitment of hunters – youth and otherwise – has been so far largely in the hands of DFW’s regional Hunter Education & Volunteer coordinators, such as our Region 3 guy, Aaron Garcia.

This year, Aaron has ramrodded these local R3 activities: Five turkey hunting clinics (Cabelas and Red’s Fly Shop) with Rich Mann – The Turkey Whisperer; Between April 1st and May 31st, 39 first-time hunters signed up to participate in mentored turkey hunts; Between September 23 and October 31, another 50 first-timers signed up to hunt fall turkeys – some may go on a late fall hunt; On September 23, youth pheasant hunters met mentors with dogs at the Cottonwoods and Sunnyside pheasant release sites, for coaching and hunting – there were many more youth hunters than in previous years; and on September 30, Reds Fly Shop, Yakima Basin Pheasants Forever, and DFW put on a youth-only pheasant hunt for 30 youngsters on the Canyon River Ranch’s hunting area. More clinics and hunts are planned.

This is important to the future of our outdoor heritage – and it is only a start. As R3 activities become available, we all need to be there.

About U.S. Slumping Hunter Numbers

Written by Jim Huckabay on October 27, 2017. Posted in Uncategorized

Maybe you have seen the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) report released in August. The 2016 National Survey of Fishing, Hunting and Wildlife-Associated Recreation (National Overview) is the latest of these surveys. At the behest of state wildlife agencies, USFWS has been sponsoring the survey every five years since 1955. This is one of America’s most important wildlife-related recreation databases and probably the definitive source of information concerning participation and spending associated with hunting, fishing and other ways of recreating and enjoying wildlife across the country.

The survey is based on thousands of interviews of Americans who participate in fishing, hunting, wildlife watching (birders and other), and shooting/archery. In the last decade, fisher numbers have increased from 30 million to almost 36 million; in 2016 those anglers spent $46 million on gear, trips and so on. In 2016, there were 86 million wildlife watchers (45 million of whom were bird observers), up from 71 million in 2006. These watchers spent nearly $76 million related in one way or another to their activities. 2016 was the first year of surveying target shooters and archers, and the study found 32 million firearm target shooters and 12.4 million archers – about 15% of them were under the age of 16.

The number of hunters across the U.S. actually fell from 12.5 million in 2006, and 13.7 million in 2011, to 11.5 million in 2016. Related expenditures also dropped from $24.7 million in 2006 and $36.3 million in 2011 to $25.6 million in 2016. Therein lies the basis for calls to action from hunting and conservation organizations nationwide, as the numbers raise major concerns about funding for wildlife and habitat – and their future.

One of the organizations leading a call to action is the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership (www.trcp.org). This outfit celebrates all kinds of outdoor recreation and pushes activities which support public lands and responsible natural resource policies. In the early September online issue of The Roosevelt Report, the first article was “A Confirmed Decline in Hunter Participation Should Be a Call to Action.” The first line was “It’s time for our community and decision makers to get serious about R3 [recruitment, retention and reactivation] efforts, adequate conservation funding, and smart policies that enhance hunters’ opportunities afield.”

Whit Fosburgh is president of the TRCP, and he’s been calling attention to the dire implications of community and wildlife leaders not seriously supporting the recruitment, retention, and reactivation of hunters, as well as other efforts to reverse the loss of revenue. R3 efforts for fishing and boating have been quite successful thanks to a funding provision in the Dingell-Johnson Act (aka, the Federal Aid in Sport Fish Restoration Act) that allows a small percentage of excise tax revenues from fishing and boating equipment to be used for recruitment and retention programs. On the other hand, The Pittman-Robertson Act (P-R) created the excise tax on guns, ammunition, and archery equipment. The funds are apportioned to state wildlife agencies to be used for a variety of projects related directly to wildlife, conservation efforts and shooting programs, but P-R does not permit using the funds for R3 activities. The apparent loss of hunting-related revenue means fewer P-R funds for managing state wildlife and conservation programs; thus, the call to action.

Now, TRCP and other groups are beating the drum to modernize P-R so that the funds can promote hunting the same way Dingell-Johnson funds promote fishing and boating. These efforts also support modernizing hunter education and licensing systems, as well as expanding access and improving the quality of the hunting experience with better habitat and more wildlife.

A number of voices are calling for better federal funding for conservation and a new Farm Bill that enhances conservation efforts on private ground and supports landowners in enrolling more ground in public access programs. An increasing number of citizens and organizations are speaking to the critical need for sportsmen and women to continue being engaged in the public process of planning for management on America’s multiple-use public lands, as well.

See the 2016 survey for yourself at wsfrprograms.fws.gov/; just click on the survey’s link. For more on what individual hunters across the country are seeing in their own states, go to www.trcp.org, click on Blog and search for “usfws survey.”

So all this is about national patterns. Where does Washington State sit in these concerns about loss of hunters and hunting-related revenue?

Stand by… Next week, we’ll check on what’s happening in our own backyard.

Kid and Adult Mentor Hunting

Written by Jim Huckabay on October 20, 2017. Posted in Uncategorized

For a few years there, a while back, I found myself fretting about young hunters, and that “future of hunting” stuff we so often cuss and discuss. Where were the youngsters? Why weren’t they out there with parents, grandparents or some adult mentor? Now, I’m thinking maybe it was just some sort of cyclical pattern.

Most everywhere I looked over the weekend, there was a kid on the ground, walking through the woods with an adult, or salivating over firearms and ammo while his dad made a purchase at one or another of our local sporting goods hot spots. A couple homeys were in a happy conversation about how – finally – their son and daughter were old enough for an armed walk in the woods with the big guys. Maybe I can relax a bit.

Monday, Homey Bill Boyum was all smiles on the phone. His grandson, Nate, had finally reached the right age/stage for a deer hunt. Nate finished his Basic Hunter Education class (and demonstrated that he could safely handle and accurately fire a proper rifle) just in time to go get his first deer license. Grandpa and Nate hunted some friendly ground out of Goldendale, saw plenty of deer, and came home with the kind of stories we hunters have been sharing for millennia. Tagged deer? Hmmm… I may have forgotten to ask. Does it matter?

Over the decades, I’m guessing that the vast majority of my most memorable hunts have involved armed walks afield with my sons or daughters – my Hucklings. Three of them became hunters of some note, and the rest eagerly looked forward to tagging along on our various hunting trips. I’ve been asked many times how I got them so connected to the rhythms of nature and food and sustenance, and my answer is nearly always “All I did was create a space for them to interact at their own pace, and they did the rest.” I was there when Tim, Michelle and Edward first made meat for our family, identifying and filling some small niche in the scheme of life on our planet.

A decade or so ago, someone sent me a link to one of rocker Ted Nugent’s essays, “Inspire a Child into the Wild.” While I wasn’t deeply into his music, I had long been, and still am, a huge fan of the work he has done to live his passion for hunting and kids and the earth. I can’t say it any better than Ted did in that essay, so I submit some excerpts for your reading pleasure.

“(T)here was no formula that I adhered to. Rather, it was a deeply thought out process along the way in order to optimize the chances that they would pursue this outdoor lifestyle with me, that has brought me so much enjoyment, excitement, happiness and gratification. All life comes from beyond the pavement, and our call to stewardship of these precious life giving renewable resources runs strong and deep. For if a father fails to bring these lessons of reality and elements of accountability into his family’s life, what good has he accomplished?

“Certainly, my exhilaration upon merely seeing game is contagious. I have made it a point to raise my family on wonderful, game rich wildground, thereby maximizing the sightings that can be shared and talked about together. The first word out of my kid’s mouths has always been ‘deer,’ as they pointed out the window or along a trail together with mom and dad. Watching wildlife shows on TV together as a family and exploring easy access wildground as often as possible brings the dynamic of wildlife encounters to the forefront of children’s young minds. As wildlife habitat faces the growing curse of development and destruction, these beyond the pavement areas for introduction are becoming harder and harder to find and access. This is why efforts and programs to save wildground are so important today. JOIN DU, RMEF, Pheasants Forever, Trout Unlimited, Quail Unlimited and any other organization you can afford. Habitat progress is job One!

“Most importantly, I did not push my children to hunt. I always made it available to them, even gently prodding and encouraging them to join me everytime I went afield, but never to the point of force or pressure. I shared the thrills of each and every hunt in stories and photos, and made it a point to let them know every night at the dinner table, ‘you should have been there! It was really cool!’

“Over the years, I tried to get them to join me on the easier maneuvers. Break them in gently. Comfortable temperatures and conditions were always more alluring than stormy, wet, cold and nasty mornings in the duckblind! But I did make it a point to let them experience the joys of ma nature’s wrath as well. There is nothing more wonderful than coming back to a warm, cozy cabin
or lodge or tent, wet, cold and beat, changing into fresh, dry clothes and sipping a steaming bowl of soup or chili around a roaring fireplace or campfire. That is heaven on earth and everybody enjoys it immensely. They always gaze into the fire and hear the call.”

Find a number of Ted’s essays, along with links to his kids’ outdoor camps and his family’s adventures at www.tednugent.com.

So, here’s to all those parents, grandparents, and adult mentors bringing along the young hunters who will secure our outdoor future!

[Photo of Dad Jim congratulating Huckling Tim on his first deer…]

All about Deer Season Openers

Written by Jim Huckabay on October 13, 2017. Posted in Uncategorized

Hunting rules, dates and ways may be evolving, but opening day anticipation has continued unabated. There was a time when deer seasons opened across the West, followed by elk season, then upland birds and waterfowl – some variance from state to state, but each season had its set time, and deer was nearly always first. Today, in efforts to manage both people and big game in various places and conditions, we have big game archery season openers, black powder openers, antlerless season openers, and so on and on. Yet, there remains one premiere opening day – tomorrow – for our statewide general modern rifle deer season. This one attracts the largest number of hunters (right at 100,000 here in Washington) and causes the largest number of pre-opener sleepless nights.

That toss-and-turn excitement builds early. A couple days ago, I watched a handful of men and women waiting to purchase licenses, ammo and other gear at the counter in Bi-Mart. A hunter in camo hauled supplies to the checkout stand up front, while the small group waiting at the counter chattered excitedly about deer and their habits, about the pleasures of making delicious healthful meat, and about family traditions. These were scenes frozen in time.

Then, too, of course, several friends and homeys stopped me around town this week. We did all the normal catch-ups, passed a few words about gardens and projects and pet peeves, and eventually got to more serious business. “So… Where ya heading Saturday morning?” “Found a spot with any nice bucks?” “Thought about that area up the Umtanum? (Or Teanaway? Or Colockum? Or…?)” Literally translated, this is “Are you going deer hunting this weekend?”

One of my more literary-minded colleagues engaged me in a deep and philosophical conversation about one’s innate need for deer hunting. To reinforce his argument, I may have confessed to youthful conniving, feigning of illness and – yes – even lying to get out of work and go deer hunting. For a time-stopping moment, we delved into the deeper meanings of Will Shakespeare’s classic question “To be or not to be?” (There is no doubt in my mind that Will was a deer hunter, but not for mule deer.) Then there is the René Descartes (or somebody, no doubt) classic proof of existence: “Je chasse, danc je suis” (“I hunt, therefore I am”). This has been my mantra since childhood.

I still remember sitting in our under-self-construction house in East Wenatchee, Washington, (on ground now under a giant Costco store) when The Old Man finally told me that I was old enough for deer hunting up the Little Chumstick, out of Leavenworth. I would carry his old J.C. Higgins bolt-action 12-gauge. I’d been shooting birds and rabbits with it for years, but this was the big time; now it would be loaded with slugs and we’d hunt Uncle Ed’s place. I had crawled and hiked those canyons and hills as long as I could remember, and the thought of finally hunting them with my father and my uncle was too delicious for words. I could hardly sleep the night before, tossing and turning with intermittent dreams of big bucks stepping out of the brush and into my down-the-barrel bead sight. The taste of the predawn air of that first opener has never left me. We made no deer meat that morning, but finally I had stories of my own to share over lunch about the big buck somehow getting the slip on me in the deep box canyon.

Over the decades, I opened big game seasons with dads, uncles, cousins and buddies. I have missed very few of them – a couple when I was in the Air Force in Korea, and maybe another in Kansas at graduate school. As my own kids came of age, I watched excitement and anticipation eat away at them the night before their first trips as hunters. I still marvel at the awkward confidence they put on when they first stepped afield with a rifle slung over their shoulder. And I still toss and turn a bit the night before the first big game hunts of the fall.

Tomorrow is the first day of our general deer season. Around 100,000 of our closest friends will be afield at daybreak, in pursuit of the wily deer. Essentially, this means that 100,000 men, women, boys and girls across the state will be having trouble sleeping tonight. Through the entire history and future of hunting, I doubt that can ever change.

Speaking of not changing, hundreds and hundreds of us will find our way to the 30th Annual Hunters Breakfast at the Swauk Teanaway Grange on Ballard Hill Road (signs at SR 970 and Teanaway Road). Many of us will do a morning hunt, refuel on ham, eggs and hotcakes (with homemade apple butter, coffee and orange juice), then head out for the rest of our opening day afield. Busloads of seniors and adventurers from the West Side will be there, too, wishing us all well.

This is an important weekend; Je chasse, danc je suis. (Even Will Shakespeare understood that.)